I steal music

posted 13 July 2006

I steal music all the time. This is wrong, because stealing is wrong.

I also believe that artists should be fairly compensated for their work. However, I believe that paying money to record companies is probably the worst way of doing this.

Record companies are a technological anachronism. They date from the time when recording equipment was expensive, and music distribution involved an awful lots of physical pressing and shipping and packing and selling.

None of this is true anymore. A relatively small amount of money will get you a kick-ass home recording studio. If you can't afford one, you can rent some time in one, and it won't cost very much either. Distributing the music -- either for free or at cost -- is ludicrously easy; just put it on the Internet and set up a PayPal account. Nobody needs a record company to do this.

What record companies should be making their money from is selling studio time, and selling specialist consultancy services in specialist areas like producing, marketing, throwing concerts, etc. that members of the band themselves don't cover. Bands still need a service like this, and there's still lots of money to be made doing this. Record companies won't die, they just need to adapt.

Instead, how record companies make their money is by taking the lion's share of the cost of every physical CD sold, and justifying this on the basis that "people like album art".

People do not give a shit about album art. They are buying the music because they like the music, or the band. The band didn't paint the fucking album art, so why would anybody who cared about the band care about the album art? People were just told that they liked album art back in the 70s, when the only recording medium was the LP, which happened to require a giant cardboard sleeve, so they thought "hey, let's put some pictures on it!"

Back when I was a student, I used to steal music because I couldn't afford it. This was because of the aforementioned huge markup caused by anachronistic record companies. Maybe if music cost about 10% as much, then that would be okay. I could have afforded it then, I could certainly afford it now.

Nowadays, I could probably afford to pay even the ridiculous prices that record companies currently charge. I don't intend to do this. But even if I did, to get it, I would either have to go to a store and buy a physical CD, or wait to have one delivered to me. Then I would have to stick it into my computer and rip it to my iPod, which is how I actually listen to music. That would be a huge hassle.

But even then, I'd discover that the CD was loaded with all sorts of really evil shit intended to make me unable to listen to my music -- deliberate corruption, broken CD formats, even malicious software that installs itself on my computer without my permission and breaks it, leaving it open to hackers. I'd be crazy to buy a CD these days, those things are dangerous!

Of course, I could also download the music from an official source. That would be a lot more convenient -- unless I switched players. Or my computer crashed. Or I wanted to play my music on a friend's computer. Because officially downloaded music is loaded with all the same sorts of inconvenient shit as CDs are.

So really, a bunch of outmoded companies are offering me a really inconvenient way to pay for music I can't listen to at about 10 times the price that I'd be willing to pay if I could actually listen to their music. Which I can't.

So I steal music. This is wrong. Please offer me a workable alternative.

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